The political potboiler in Tamil Nadu ended on Thursday with the swearing-in of jailed AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala’s proxy, Edappadi K Palaniswami, as the chief minister.
Palaniswami retained almost all the ministers in the O Panneerselvam government, barring the ousted chief minister as well as education minister MF Pandiarajan who have rebelled against Sasikala.
Governor C Vidyasagar Rao administered the oath of office to the chief minister and his 30-member council at a function in which Sasikala’s family members took the front row, leaving no room for guesswork as to where the party leaders draw their strength from.
The governor invited Palaniswami to form the government after he presented a list of 124 AIADMK lawmakers supporting him. The new chief minister will have to take a floor test in the assembly in a fortnight to prove that he enjoys support of the majority of legislators.
The AIADMK posted on its twitter handle that the trust vote will be held on Saturday.
Senior party leaders said the leadership wanted to get it done without delay — lest some of the legislators changed their mind and crossed over to the Panneerselvam camp that has vowed to fight the “wrongdoing”.
Until then the MLAs would remain at Golden Bay resort at Kuvathur, 80km from Chennai, where they have been staying since Sasikala corralled them there last Wednesday night to stop them from switching loyalties.
Panneerselvam backers were confident about several legislators joining their side.
“During the floor test, even if seven MLAs switch sides, the government will be in a minority. Wait and see what happens,” former education minister Pandiarajan said.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami at Jayalalithaa’s shrine at Marina beach after the swearing-in ceremony in Chennai on Thursday. (PTI Photo)
The Panneerselvam camp requested the election commission to nullify the election of Sasikala as the AIADMK general secretary, alleging that the process violated the party constitution.
“Freeing the party from the control of Sasikala is the larger battle and this is a step in that direction,” said Rajya Sabha member V Maitreyan, who went to poll panel with the request in New Delhi.
The 61-year-old Sasikala — a long-time confidante of former AIADMK supremo and chief minister J Jayalalithaa — had been anointed as the late leader’s successor by the ruling party and was due to be sworn in last week.
But she was pulled into a bruising power struggle by Panneerselvam, who alleged he was forced to resign. Since then, he has been backed by several MPs and MLAs who have switched sides but a majority of the party lawmakers is said to be behind Sasikala.
Her hopes were dashed when the Supreme Court sent her to prison for four years in a two-decade-old corruption case, prompting her to name Palaniswami as her successor and brought two nephews into the party who were expelled by Jayalalithaa.
The conviction disqualifies her from holding a public office and contesting elections for the next 10 years. She is now lodged in Bengaluru central jail as prisoner number 9324, but political analysts said she would wield the remote control with a proxy heading the government.
Panneerselvam, also known as OPS, vowed to free the state from the clutches of Sasikala and her family.
“We will defeat them in the assembly,” he told his supporters outside his home in Chennai.
But for now, the initiative appears lost in the rebel camp.
Sasikala supporter and senior minister OS Manian was confident that the government would complete its term, a little more than four years to the next assembly elections.
“Most of the MLAs with OPS will return to us. You wait and see,” he said, hinting that the cabinet would be expanded after trust vote.
The lawmakers would prefer to complete their term, rather than going for fresh elections without their charismatic leader, Jayalalithaa, and with the burden of an ugly power spat. The fear of facing the ballot will bind the AIADMK legislators, political analysts said.